Shooting the Breeze at St Andrews

Late August saw Ian, Trevor and I bouncing around on Ian’s Raider a few miles along the coast from St Andrews. Aside from a few codling it proved a rather rollercoaster style experience so we snuck back inshore, under the shelter of the low cliffs along this part of the coastline. Once tucked in out of the worst of the wind I dropped a grapnel down into the rocky, kelp covered, seabed little more than twenty feet below us.

Ian and Trevor fishing for codling from Ian Raider boat on an overcast and windy day at St Andrews.
A grey day off St Andrews

In these conditions fish tend to come fairly quickly, or not at all, as the boat sweeps from side to side, pendulum fashion, at the end of the anchor rope. Fortunately the fish were hungry, so when Ian and I pinched a few of Trevor’s rag we were soon knocking out ballans in various sizes and colours on spinning gear. These were my first wrasse of the year and really quite good fun to catch, with some bright red codling mixed in with them.

A small kelpy coloured ballan wrasse for me from St Andrews.
A small ballan wrasse for me.

Trevor and Ian were catching pollack on lures, whilst I just took a lazy approach and suspended a mackerel belly strip on a flowing trace a few feet above the kelp. If conditions were calm I’d be able to see it clearly, maybe fifteen to twenty feet below the boat. As it was, the fairly rapid pendulum action gave a pretty decent action to the mackerel strip whilst the choppy sea seemed to reduce what little inhibition the pollack had.

A pollack for Trevor, caught on a lure close to shore at St Andrews
A pollack for Trevor

Maybe not quite top drawer fishing, but we’d a reasonable pile of pollack (most sub-4lb, but a few better ones too) and more wrasse than I’ve seen in years. A fair number of codling, and the usual mackerel and coalies. I think Trevor picked up a small ling too, which he does pretty consistently.

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Around and About on the East Coast

I’ve not been posting that much recently, so this is a quick catch up of a few trips on the east coast over the last couple of months.

Tayport

This is going back to June, but worth a mention as it’s the first time I’ve fished here. Easy short(ish) range fishing for flounder and dabs in our case, to a mix of worm, crab and fish. A laid back way to spend an afternoon!Both these specimens (and the photos) were taken by Ian. We were using rather overkill gear for here, and spinning or carp rods with an ounce or two of lead would be a better idea.

St Andrews

Late June saw me aboard Ian’s Raider for the first time this year, and heading out of St Andrews in search of a few fish suppers.

Ian fishing a baited rig for codling off St Andrews
Ian fishing off St Andrews

One of the minor hazards of sea fishing are the gulls, but they seemed unusually persistent today, and quite determined to get themselves some mackerel. At one stage we were surrounded by 7 or 8 black backs closing in for the kill, and they weren’t easily put off either.

A persistent black backed gull demands feeding, perched on the bow of Ian's Raider 18
Persistent seagull

I didn’t take any pictures of the fish for some reason, but suffice it to say that the freezer got a healthy boost with a selection of decent fillets.

Dunbar

I don’t really fish Dunbar that much these days, as it gets awful crowded during the summer. However it’s still nice to launch early in the day before it gets overrun and you can find a place to park. That’s what I did last week, and I’d a fine few hours drifting for codling, ling and mackerel. All pretty small, with the biggest fish a pollack of 4.5lbs, but there in reasonable numbers.

A short spined sea scorpian from Dunbar. They look mean but are completely harmless
SSSS! (Short Spined Sea Scorpian)

I ended the morning with about 30+ ling and codling, a couple of pollack and a useful contribution towards the winter bait supplies – about 45 mackerel. Also my first scorpion fish for a year or two, perhaps because of the small tides and fairly slow drift.

St Andrews – again

Gulls were the pest last time out of St Andrews, but the plague was a little more exotic today. Ian warned that he’d been pestered by hoverflies the night before, but I didn’t really believe him. OK, they look like wasps but that’s as far as it goes. They don’t bite and they don’t sting…

A mile offshore from St Andrews and we were plagued by hundreds of hoverflies, presumably chased off the fields by harvesting.
A plague of hoverflies

… but they can crawl all over you, up your nose and into your mouth. Ye gods!, I’d never have thought they could be such a pain. Presumably we were the only safe haven for them a mile out to sea, and they made full use of us.

The bugs thinned out a bit as the breeze picked up, but they definitely outnumbered the fish. We did get a load of codling but mainly small stuff.

Nicely coloured inshore codling - these fish take on the colour of the kelp beds and range from orange to deep red in colour
Nicely coloured inshore codling

However there were a few pollack about in the 5-5.5lb bracket, and Ian managed a couple of dogfish too. These have a novelty value on the east coast as we don’t often catch them on this side. They add even more shine to Ian’s “dogfish magnet” reputation too!

This little codling also demonstrated his appetite quite nicely. Note the mackerel tail sticking out his gob – he’s swallowed a whole mackerel frame, including head, that we’d chucked over on a previous drift.

This fish swallowed a whole mackerel frame, discarded after being filleted. The tail of the mackerel is still sticking out the codling's mouth, and it was still ready to eat more.
A greedy fish, feeding off discarded mackerel frames

 

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Hauling Haddock

It was a little after 8 in the morning when Ian and I trundled into the harbour. Rather unusually for NE Scotland the sun was shining and the wind minimal, although there was a slight but definite swell rolling in. We could see Trev and his Icelander 18 just offshore, launched a little earlier to beat the ebb tide. A quick phone call and we completed a rather hairy pickup from the bottom of a harbour ladder and headed out to sea.

Trev Icelander 18 has a cosy cabin - perfect for winter fishing
A cosy cabin – perfect for winter fishing

I haven’t fished these grounds for a very long time and instead of the normal coddie bashing, we were after it’s tastier cousin, the haddock (IMHO, of course!). I haven’t had these in decent numbers for ages so it was music to my ears when Trev mentioned he was getting haddock nearby.

The marks are fairly loosely defined here, and we drifted over a mix of gritty sand and shell with only the odd snag. Not too far offshore, but in roughly 150 feet of water. After a slowish start we began to pick up fish in reasonable numbers – small codling, haddock and dabs.

A typical smallish haddock for the day, caught by Trevor
Trev and a haddock
Fine day, not quite so fine anglers
An angler selfie…

We’d a bonus or two along the way – Ian pulled in the only mackerel of the day and a wee scorpian fish, whilst I was very happy to see a small plaice on the end of my line. None of the haddock were big although most made it above the size limit, unfortunately for them!

The one and only plaice of the day, and my first of the year
Small plaice (although the more I look at it the more I think “hybrid”?)

As the tide slackened off so did the fishing, so we headed a few miles down the coast to give a local wreck and some reefy ground a try.

Trev's Icelander 18 can show a good turn of speed on a calm sea
Powering across the sea

Fishing here was slow but we managed a couple of decent codling mixed in with the small stuff. The best made about 5lb 12oz, although it looked a bit of a bruiser with its battered tail. Loads of tiny ling, as Trev demonstrated with a double at one point.

A rather beaten up codling from a small inshore wreck
Fish of the day
A lingfest! We had a lot of small ling during the day
A plague of ling!

A shift back to our original marks as the tide ebbed had us hitting plenty more dab and haddock. I managed a haddock threesome and Ian brought three dab aboard to cement his reputation as the flattie king of the day.

Haddock three at a time
Haddock threesome (pic courtesy of Trev)
Ian catches dabs three at a time
Dab-meister in action

We didn’t leave it too late to head in to harbour, as Trev had to retrieve the Icelander and Ian and I had a fair journey to get home.

Retrieving Trev's Icelander 18 at the end of the day
Retrieving at the end of the day

Species for the day – cod, ling, haddock, scorpian fish, plaice, dab and mackerel – not bad for the east coast. We didn’t make it to 100 haddock for the day but were getting within striking distance of that number. Loads of dabs too, and a decent sprinkling of small codling and ling.

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Early Days at Dunbar

Ian’s had a fish or three up the coast at St Andrews over the past few weeks, but he’s had to work hard for them. For my part I resisted what little temptation there was to pop my boat into the North Sea until yesterday. However, sun, no wind and a day off coincided and I found myself joining the Edinburgh bypass around 7, before the traffic gets too silly. Destination Dunbar, for the first time in many months.

Out of the harbour and heading east, I hit a steady swell from the NE as I ploughed on down towards the wreck I planned to fish. I saw a few potters working their creels, but no sign of any other angler out in the sunshine.

Beautiful calm sea and looking towards the Bass Rock from a spot a few miles east of Dunbar
A hard day to be afloat!

Being a lazy sod I stuck with the wreck all morning, mainly because experience suggests that it is the best place to find early season fish, before their numbers explode at the end of May. I kicked off with baited hokkais which chipped away at some smallish codling and an even smaller ling. Down in the depths of the ironwork I go hit by a much chunkier fish, which had me thinking about a decent codling until a silvery coloured Pollack appeared at the surface. It went over 5lbs but you wouldn’t have guessed that from the lacklustre fight it put up.

A pollack and a codling caught early season from a wreck a few miles from Dunbar
Pollack and a codling
Unhooking a small pollack just before returning it to grow a bit plumper
Unhooking a small pollack

Switching over to my spinning rod and leadhead I continued to pick away at both Pollack and small codling. Eventually I upped my Pollack total to six, all of which looked a bit manky, presumably post-spawning. Size-wise the biggest was 6lb 4oz, and it was the only one that put up a proper fight. Sadly, it had completely engulfed my lure and was so deep hooked that it ended up in the fish box.

With my rod hooped over as he dives, this pollack makes it clear it doesn't want to come aboard my boat
Fish on!
Using the net to bring a decent inshore pollack aboard my boat
Netting a decent pollack
This is a nice but thin pollack from Dunbar and looking decidedly weatherbeaten after spawning
Pollack of the day

I headed inshore for a final drift off the lighthouse as I filleted the fish I’d kept. Just one more little codling took a jellyworm I’d left fishing as I wielded the knife. Incidentally, the Pollack I’d kept had no fish in its stomach, only 4 or 5 crabs, which suggests there aren’t that many baitfish around yet. All the Pollack were well underweight for their length, about 10% or so, and pretty battered looking.

A view of Dunbar harbour entrance from the seaward side
Returning to Dunbar
Leading my boat the last few yards to the slipway at Dunbar harbour
Back at the slipway

Total of 12 codling (most undersize), 6 Pollack and a little ling. Quite happy with that as a result for about 4-5 hours fishing, and I expect things at Dunbar should pick up quite quickly now. Famous last words…

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East Coast Round-up

I’ve been very remiss in reporting this year’s events on the Scottish east coast boat fishing scene. Maybe there’s not been much to write about, but I have fallen way behind. A mid-November trip out of St Andrews may be my last trip afloat on the east coast this year (hopefully not!) so kind of forces me to write up or shut up as far as the fishing afloat is concerned.

Ian's Raider berthed at St Andrews
Berthed at St Andrews

It’s not a great year to be honest – modest catches of this and that, but little outstanding or memorable. Pollack, cod, ling and mackerel, with the odd coalie and wrasse thrown in.

A nice, dark coloured, ballan wrasse for Ian, caught off St Andrews
Nice ballan wrasse for Ian, caught earlier this year

However, last Wednesday saw me heading out of St. Andrews on Ian’s Raider on a fine, calm morning. Our target was codling, aiming to repeat Ian’s success of a few days earlier in what had been far worse conditions. Apart from a few dog walkers and joggers the harbour was deserted as we headed down alongside the historic old pier and then accelerated down the coast in the direction of Fife Ness. November is traditionally a shore fishers, rather than a boat fishers, month and we had no competition out on the water.

A very calm North Sea, not quite what you expect in November
Not bad for November!

Miles along the coast, and several drifts later, we were contemplating digging out the beachcasters ourselves. Nothing doing. However, experience had long taught us that fish switch on and off the feed, and that patience can really pay off. A couple of hours and a few ling and pollack later, the codling finally decided to start showing themselves.

A small ling from St. Andrews
Small ling

Nothing like the 100+ fish we’ve had in the past, but a steady catch rate of codling cheered up the day.

Ian with a fairly typical St Andrews codling
Typical codling

Ian even tried his flying d*ldo rig, a ridiculously large fluorescent yellow shad more suited to Norwegian halibut, and managed a greedy little codling in exchange.

Ian aims high with his eye-catching latex lure
Ian aims high with his eye-catching latex
A very greedy little codling tackles Ian's hi-viz latex monster lure
A very greedy codling

I’m guessing the final total was 30-40 codling and maybe 12-15 or so assorted pollack, coalies, ling and a whiting (a comparatively rare fish in these parts). Best fish was a pollack that Ian landed, 5lb 4oz or thereabouts.

Little and large - a pollack and a whiting from St Andrews
Little and large – a pollack and a whiting

My equally late West Coast update still to follow…

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A Wee Playabout off Dunbar

Sunday looked to be a nice day so the target was to be Dunbar pollack, codling and ling again. Boat and gear were sorted and I set the alarm to give me a fighting chance of hitting the slip before boats started to stack up. As a result a rather bleary-eyed angler edged his boat out of the harbour and parked just outside the Yetts to try for a few mackerel. Fishing whilst struggling out of bulky neoprene waders isn’t really a sensible idea, but I did pick up 5 small/tiny mackerel as I did so.

Drifting along further whilst I sorted out other gear and a caffeine hit saw a few more mackerel, with some better sized ones hiding below the tiny ones nearer the surface. Having sorted out the bait it was time to cruise down towards Barns Ness for a longish drift or five.

The sun shines on my new boat as we cruise along near Siccar Point, about 10 miles from Dunbar
Near Siccar Point, about 10 miles from Dunbar

The breeze was a little strong for the River Garry wreck, but the drift speed was generally OK and a bit less than I thought it might be, given the lightness of the Longliner. Somewhere in the 1.2-1.5 mph range, which is fine for fishing with.

Codling were rather thin on the ground and mainly on the small side, but I’d two or three before my spinning rod dramatically keeled over as it got hit by a pollack (the video captures that quite nicely). The next couple of hours were much the same, with only a scattering of fish showing.

Pollack take no prisoners when they engulf a bait and my spinning rod bends double in the rod holder
Pollack take no prisoners when they engulf a bait
A pollack gleams in the morning sunshine as it is returned to the sea
Sleek looking Pollack from Dunbar

Eventually I decided to head a few miles eastward to try some ground that is occasionally kind to me. I didn’t have great expectations, but it was a good excuse to get another hour on the outboard and edge a little closer to completing its break-in period.

Fresh from the sea - a small codling comes aboard my Longliner2
Fresh from the sea – a small codling

Weaving in between the pot markers on this mark I set up a few drifts but had little in return bar a couple of pollack and some decent sized mackerel. A little disappointing but I wasn’t too bothered given it was a nice sunny day and there wasn’t much doing elsewhere anyway.

Slipping a Pollack back to the sea
Slipping a Pollack back to the sea

I took my time heading back, doing my best to heed Yamaha’s run-in advice, and stopped off at a couple more marks to add one or two more codling.

So 4 hard-fighting (rather than big!) pollack, and 12 or so codling, plus a fair number of mackerel to add to winter bait supplies. I’ve had far better catches but the sunshine certainly helped take the edge off the day.

And a video of the day…

Summer Boatfishing off Dunbar
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First Dunbar trip in ages

It’s been something like 10 or 11 months since I last ventured out on the east coast from my own boat. Consequently I was feeling well out of practice as I edged my way down to the harbour for my first Dunbar trip in ages early last Sunday morning.

Looking towards St Abbs
Looking towards St Abbs

As on her maiden trip to Etive, the Longliner proved a doddle to launch and I soon edged out the harbour and parked myself out past the Yetts whilst I got the gear sorted out. A set of mylars attracted 5 or 6 mackerel for bait as we drifted very slowly along and once suitably tackled up it was time to head down to the wreck and try for something a little larger.

This took a little longer than usual as the outboard is still getting run in, but mackerel baited muppets hit the seabed around half-seven. It was an easy drift, especially as the wind died right back, but more or less one fish each time rather than any great numbers.

Nice 5lb + codling from Dunbar, showing a few battle scars on its nose and tail where something (probably a seal) has had a go at it.
Nice 5lb + codling

Eventually the inevitable in wrecking happened and I found myself attached very firmly to a large lump of rusting metal. As usual, my frantic tugging and jigging had no effect at all and I was resigned to losing gear when the wreck pulled back – and hard! This was clearly a decent fish as it broke loose of the seabed and fought hard as it realised it’s predicament. My Shimano wasn’t exactly smoking, but it was conceding respectable amounts of line until my opponent gradually tired and a very nice looking ling appeared. The scales bounced round to 12 lbs 2 oz, which put it in my top 5 ling. It was popped back, hopefully to grow nearer the 20lb mark…

A fine 12lb ling from Dunbar, off an inshore wreck
12lb ling from Dunbar

Fishing fell away a bit as the ebb started so I decided to try inshore for a bit and see if there were any more codling about. Between Barns Ness and Torness the balance shifted more to pollack, albeit nothing more than 2-2.5lbs plus a couple of codling of similar stamp, but it was relatively slow going. However I took the opportunity to fillet the catch and save some effort once I got back home.

A small inshore pollack from Dunbar
Small inshore pollack

By midday it was time to call it quits as the tide dropped, so I headed back west towards the slipway, avoiding a large bunch of paddleboarders near the harbour entrance – Dunbar seems to get more cluttered every year!

Final tally – 7 each of cod, ling and Pollack, a solitary coalie and a smattering of mackerel. Very pleased with the ling but otherwise a nice, middle of the road sort of morning – and the rain held off until I got home.

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Codling Galore at St. Andrews

After an hour trundling along at 40mph in a pensioner rally I arrived at St. Andrews to find plenty of water in the harbour. Far too much water in fact, as the harbour gates were closed with Ian’s boat on the wrong side 🙁

Sluice gates in the harbour are opened
Sluice gates in the harbour are opened (not my image, but borrowed from YouTube)

Getting them opened again involved a tense race against time to allow the water levels either side of the gates to be equalised before the tide dropped too low to allow us out anyway. “Race” gives completely the wrong idea, as the sluices equalised water levels at roughly the rate your fingernails grow. It was a painfully slow wait until, finally, Ian managed to scrape through the half-opened gates and we crept out of a rapidly emptying harbour and out to sea.

A nicely marked codling which fell to ragworm on a purple muppet lure
A nicely marked codling which fell to ragworm on a purple muppet lure

A brief stop to confirm that the mackerel weren’t in yet and we headed eastwards towards cod territory. Fish were a little patchy but we hit clumps of them from the start and the rods were soon getting action. Fairly typical early summer fish – a bit thin and most around 2lbs – they were certainly hungry and happy to eat anything. Ragworm did nicely, but mackerel hammered quite a few, and Ian’s lure rod was very busy.

A typical inshore ballan wrasse - the colours of this one are a little subdued
A typical ballan
A cod with two tails, or two codling - it's hard to tell in this shot
Twin tail or two fish?

After a fairly slow hiatus over low water action picked up again with the tide. Pollack weren’t much in evidence, probably because the tide was fairly small, and codling certainly dominated the day. With an empty freezer I was happy to keep a few to restock, although the vast majority went back.

Nicely coloured fish and lure!
Nicely coloured fish and lure!

Ian’s plans for a final attempt to wheedle out a pollack or two were bushwhacked by a pod of dolphins feeding over the same territory. They weren’t exactly chasing us, but when we moved so did the dolphins. There didn’t seem to be much point in competing with them so we called it a day and headed back.

One of a small pod of dolphins working close inshore near St Andrews
Dolphins close inshore

The body count for the day was just shy of 70 cod plus a couple of pollack, a ling, ballan wrasse and a handful of small coalie. The ling was mine and the rest fell to Ian’s rod.

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Ice and Fog (and a few cod) at St Andrews

Ice and fog pretty much sums up this morning, from scraping ice off the Raider’s windows (inside and out) to setting out into uncomfortably thick fog and a light but freezing NW wind.

De-icing the Raider before heading out
De-icing the Raider

We were both chilling down rapidly by the end of our first drift, as the conditions cut to the bone despite our layers of thermals. Another hour in the Gulag saw the fog beginning to break up but only a couple of small codling to show for our frozen fingers.

Ian's rod with a nice bend on it after hitting into a nice codling
Rod hoops over to a decent fish

The fog formed into smoky clouds that gave a very arctic feel to things, with a temperature to match and I was praying that the wind didn’t rise as it would’ve made things unbearably chilly.

Freezing fog on the Fife coast looks like smoke on the water
Freezing fog on the Fife coast

Fishing stayed fairly slow until after the turn of the tide, but we did pick away and added one or two better fish to the fish box.

Happily, by lunchtime, the day had changed beyond recognition – with the fog replaced by bright November sunshine. This was a big morale boost, although it didn’t actually do very much to defrost my fingers.

Freezing, thick fog gives way to bright November sunshine on the seas off St Andrews

This small codling crunched a bright yellow banana coloured mini-pirk
Codling eats banana – one of Ian’s killer lures

We were hooking fish fairly steadily now, and Ian had the best of them (as usual) with a fish getting on for 5.5 lbs. They seemed happy feeding on both lures and baited hokkais and muppets, but were noticeably greedy and several engulfed more than one hook as they gorged themselves – not that we were complaining.

Ian with a 5lb codling
Ian with a 5lb codling

Almost at last orders Ian pulled another little oddity out of the hat, with a nice ballan wrasse which took a large shad-like lure.

A very green looking late season ballan wrasse
Late season ballan

For late November this has to count as a good day out, with around 40 codling and a few hangers on in the shape of ling, wrasse and coalie. Bumped up my freezer stocks nicely too!

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Redeeming Myself at St Andrews with some Autumn Codling

After my dismal showing at Aberdeen a fortnight ago, I was keen to catch a few fish for the table and I happily took up Ian’s offer of a hunt for a some autumn codling from St Andrews. An easy run up from Edinburgh saw me at the harbour a few minutes early on a fine, clear morning. Ian had had fish a couple of days before and conditions looked good, so I was pretty optimistic about our chances.

Several miles along the coast and a couple of hours later, confidence was evaporating somewhat with only two fish between us and a fairly chilly SW wind reminding us that summer had well and truly gone. With the anchor down Ian had a try for Pollack whilst I bottom fished in the hope of a wrasse or two.

Float fishing for pollack with ragworm off St Andrews

Our totals built steadily but rather too slowly to mixture of anchoring and drifting, mainly with codling and one or two ling showing. Only one pollack showed up – to Ian, of course – and also this little scorpion fish, which came to Ian as well and is the first I’ve seen for ages.

Short-spined Sea Scorpian - looks fierce but is quite harmless and definitely not poisonous

To be fair to the cod, they were all in good condition after a summer spent stuffing themselves on crab and baitfish – autumn and winter is definitely the best time to take a few plump fish for the freezer round here.

Decent pan sized codling from the boat off St Andrews, late autumn

Happily our last ninety minutes turned into more of a sprint for the finish which pretty much doubled our catch for the day as the fish came on the feed a bit more robustly. We’d a couple over the 5lb mark and a decent number got turned into freezer fodder, although most got returned to grow a bit bigger.

Autumn sun setting over Fife

Final tally was around 32 codling between us, plus ling, pollack, scorpion fish and a single last-gasp mackerel. We took the hint as the sun set over Fife and headed home over what was now an almost flat calm sea – not something I expect to be able to say too often over the next few months!

Ian with a nice brace of autumn codling caught from St Andrews
Ian with a nice brace of autumn codling

 

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